As local school districts and the state government begin the budget development process for 2020-2021, the New Jersey School Boards Association is calling on the education community to come together in support of a series of school funding proposals that would benefit all local districts.
“During my long career in public school leadership, I have learned that every district faces funding challenges that vary according to its own circumstances—whether they involve community wealth, the stability of its tax base and, most critical, the needs of its students,” said Dr. Lawrence S. Feinsod, NJSBA executive director.
“The battle for quality schools never ends,” he said.
“In the past, the education community worked to overcome differences, joining together to speak with a unified voice. That should be our goal today. We are in an unprecedented situation, and it’s pitting school districts against each other.”
The point of contention, as widely known, centers on the allocation of state education aid under Senate Bill 2. Depending on which side of the ledger a district falls, the six-year adjustment in school funding, prescribed by S-2, can be viewed as a long-overdue correction to an unjust situation—or an abrupt reduction that will diminish the education program.
NJSBA has supported—and will continue to support—all school districts on the issue of state aid to education, both publicly and in dialogue with legislators. The Association believes that there is common ground on school funding that would improve the situation for all boards of education.
Policy, adopted by NJSBA’s local school board delegates, calls for a funding system that reflects current enrollment and the most recent data. Therefore, NJSBA supports the move toward full funding for those districts where students were shortchanged for nearly a decade by the state’s administration of the school finance system. But in the course of putting school funding back on track, a significant number of districts are facing deep cuts in state aid. The state must recognize that a district losing funding may face exceptional circumstances, and it must provide support as needed.
Strategies NJSBA is calling for legislative initiatives to ensure that school funding addresses the following factors, among others:
- An increasing special education population and rising special education costs;
- District capacity to accommodate the student population within the existing physical plant;
- A growing number of children with family income below the poverty line, as well as other demographic factors including rates of incarceration, pregnancy, drug abuse and suicide;
- PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) agreements negotiated by municipalities, which often result in no or limited revenue for school purposes;
- A depletion of the ratable base due to weather events or other circumstances, and
- The need to increase the tax levy beyond the 2% cap to maintain educational programming.
In addition, other strategies would benefit school districts across the spectrum. They include, but are not limited to, increased special education funding, health benefits reform, and cap adjustments for school security, mental health services, capital outlay and transportation. Also necessary is adequate emergency aid to address exceptional circumstances in districts facing sharp state aid reductions.
End Division “For the New Jersey School Boards Association, which represents all local boards of education, the current school funding situation has been especially challenging,” commented NJSBA President Michael R. McClure. “What truly troubles me is the division, sometimes bordering on hostility, within the education community and its potentially negative impact on public education statewide.
“We have to resolve our differences and work together. Too much is at stake,” he said.
“There are many challenges down the road,” McClure continued. “They will require local school board members to take the lead with their education communities and stand together, shoulder to shoulder, for quality education for our state’s 1.4 million students.”